Exploitation of religion (1)
There is a role that Muslims who have to speak to all people in the world because they are servants of Allah should play in the world. If we argue that Islam is a remedy to the ongoing problems in our time, then we need to offer a plausible answer to this question: What do we mean by Islam? What kind of world is it we would like to build under the guidance of Islamic values and precepts?
Our experiences tell us that people who speak on behalf of Islam have different perceptions of Islam. Some would like to practice the religion in its purest form; some would like to deliver its message; some are of the opinion that they should rely on Islam to the extent that their personal, group or national interests are fulfilled. It is only natural to see different groups, schools and paths paying attention to different interpretations within a religion. This enriches the members of that religion.
But this is how Muslims regard this diversity. They either accuse each group of violating the main rules of the religion or of exploiting religion for their own interests. Every group argues that they better represent the true Islam and will serve as the Noah’s Ark that will ensure salvation.
But the problem is not limited to the mutual accusations. The secular circles accuse all groups that use religion as a reference for the regulation of the public sphere of exploiting the religion or seeking to establish an authoritarian and totalitarian religious rule and government for themselves. Secularists view religion and religious people as a threat to the public sphere. Of course, there are terrible events that make the secular circles concerned, and there are some scary organizations that consider the invasion of privacy of others part of their religious agenda; but this mindset is not something that appeared because of contemporary cases alone. It is a mindset that is fed by assumptions and stereotypes.
A review of the arguments on the exploitation of religion and its transformation into an ideology by Islamists reveals that they are not well grounded. If exploitation means the use of something against its main and original purpose and the observation of some interests contrary to its main tenets, then either individuals, groups or states can be guilty of it. In other words, it has nothing to do with religion itself; Islam considers such acts to be insincere and contrary to its messages.
The use of Islam as a supporting factor to attain some national and material goals rather than its genuine purpose is a fairly old attitude; most probably, we can trace signs of this to the first generations of Islam. It is even possible to argue that the first huge disagreements and conflicts erupted because of the attempt to attribute a different perception and mission to Islam. We can, for instance, cite the disagreement between Muawiya, who wanted to reinforce the tribal interests of the Umayyads with his office, and Ali, who paid attention to the spiritual message and rules of Islam as an example of this. The Abbasids who ended the Umayyad rule based their legitimacy upon Islam and its cause. Both the Saljukis who struggled against the Fatimid rule and the Ottomans also worked hard as protectors of the Sunni version of Islam.
And now, most of the states in the Muslim world that adopted a nation-state form rely on a version of Islam as the basis of their legitimacy. A review of the acts of these states shows that their domestic and foreign policies are designed to observe Islamic goals, or at least the arguments of their political elites refer to these goals.